Crowds expected as Tokushima’s Awa Odori festival adds foreign amenities

AFP-JIJI

Over a million performers and spectators will flock to Shikoku this weekend for one of Japan’s largest dance festivals after organizers stepped up efforts to accommodate foreign visitors.

The annual Awa Odori festival, which originates from the Buddhist custom of honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors, sees the otherwise sleepy city of Tokushima turn into a stage for four days.

Groups of dancers and musicians, known as ren, parade through the streets to the sound of such traditional instruments as lutes, drums, flutes and bells.

Decked out in costumes based on yukata (summer kimono), accented by hair bands or straw hats, they chant in chorus and dance in sync according to each group’s choreography.

The number of participants, including performers, is expected to hit the same number as last year, when 1.2 million took part in the centuries-old carnival.

“You need practice when you do other Japanese traditional performing arts, but anyone can enjoy Awa Odori… just by raising your hands and taking steps to the rhythm,” said 32-year-old dancer Masayuki Tatekawa.

Kenji Kitamura, an organizer, said anyone can take part.

“This is a dance festival welcoming everybody as they can watch, sing, dance.

“This year we are especially putting the emphasis on foreign visitors as the number of tourists from other countries to Japan is increasing.”

This year there will be English signs and temporary western-style toilets, he said.

The Visit Japan campaign is doing well ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The government said last month that travelers from other countries jumped 17.4 percent to a record 13.8 million in the first half of 2017.